Dictation and Divine Authorship

I was teaching on Exodus 34 the other day and noticed this nice little ‘contradiction.’ Moses ascends Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments for the second time (on which, if you’re interested, see this) and the passage begins:

‘The Lord said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke…”’ (Exodus 34:1)

However, a few verses later, after God has spelled out the terms of the covenant, we read:

‘And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.’ (Exodus 34:27-28)

In verse 1 God says He will write on the tablets. In verses 27-28 He tells Moses to write on the tablets. So which is it?

Well, I don’t think this is a contradiction, or God changing His mind. Rather I think it tells us something quite helpful about the interaction between divine and human authorship. Which is simply this:

God seems perfectly happy with the idea that a piece of writing may be the product of a human hand and yet also genuinely reflect His divine authorship. The words that came through the pen (chisel?) of Moses could be said to be words that God had written, and He at least seems to have little problem with the combination of divine and human authorships.

What God has joined together, let no man put asunder!

The Dictaphone by National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

The Dictaphone by National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

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